Guest Tribute: Mike Stefanik A Hall Of Famer In Every Way

Mike Stefanik (Photo: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Joe Skotnicki is a longtime Whelen Modified Tour crew member, former NASCAR official and owner of the Race Of Champions Modified Series. He shared these thoughts below with us at RaceDayCT following the announcement that Mike Stefanik would be a 2021 inductee to the NASCAR Hall of Fame

By Joe Skotnicki

Mike Stefanik … “Michael” is an interesting guy, he’s certainly a Hall of Fame guy.

He lived life to the fullest, he just did it his way.

By the time I got to know Michael well, he was a pretty polished individual, gone was the wild hair, the pepsi cup in that famous photograph with Richie Evans, but man could he drive. Being  a young writer for a trade paper at the time, I was happy that he just talked to me.

“Hanging with Richie Evans after the races up on the hill at Riverside Park,” will always be one of the top-highlights of my career. Michael told me that many times. He was old school, he respected the sport and those who he raced, he was a brilliant student of his craft and when he took to something he was all in.

He’s now “all-in” in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, a nine-time champion and a career that’s truly deserving of this honor. My pal that used to call up and bust on me because we’d always compare weather notes (we almost always had more snow in Western New York) and “check in” on one another is in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, it just doesn’t get much cooler than that.

After he walked away from driving he didn’t hang around that much. I had the thrill of watching a couple races with him and his wife Julie at the World Series one nice afternoon. It was a thrill, we were all sitting in turn one at Thompson and I even think Dick Berggren sat with us for a minute. Cool stuff for a guy even on his way to 50. 

See in life, rarely do you get to meet and actually know your heroes, you watch them do what they do and if you’re lucky you get to shake their hands and have a photo with them. I was extremely fortunate and today when it was announced, I was nervous before, I cried, my son and shouted and hugged, most of all, I wished he was here. He told a few of us openly that it was “bullshit” if you didn’t get in on the first ballot, but I know, after watching his speech at the New England Hall of Fame induction ceremony, what this would really mean to him, his family and all of us. The friends that have just been around him for what seems like forever now and watch him do so many amazing things.

Michael wasn’t much about the limelight. If he wasn’t racing, he certainly wasn’t “hanging around”, he’d rather be home or working when there wasn’t racing to be done. Racing was a business to him that he enjoyed but his life was his life as well. He and Julie were never far apart, he raised two amazing girls (Nicole and Christine), he was definitely proud of them and their accomplishments. He was a family guy and he got labeled sometimes as “milk and cookies”, while that may not be totally accurate, he would occasionally make his famous mashed potatoes and usually he was the first one to bed, typically unannounced, but that was him. Sure, there were some “Jack and Diets” along the way, but more often than not, there wasn’t too much time for goofing off or “hanging around”. Later on as things slowed down, the smiles and the local adventures increased around the Stefanik’s Johnson Pond home in Coventry, Rhode Island.

The years where he won four championships in two seasons, you couldn’t write half of what was going on in a Hollywood script. Things, right down to the minute of arrival at tracks, everywhere were scripted and many times it just seemed to work out to perfection. It was a lot of work and a tremendous amount of adjustment on his part. He never missed a beat and so many things had to fall into place for those things to happen. All of it he enjoyed in New England. He loved New England, sure he complained about the winters and sometimes he’d talk about going “south”, but I never saw it happening that way.

I remember a conversation we had not long after his driving career had ended. We were talking about “the rush”, “the excitement”. “It’s hard to replace the thrill you have coming to the green with someone like Ryan Newman next to you, it’s hard to replace that…” He replaced it with flying, he loved it. The fabrication on his airplane was just as good, if not better than any of the racecars he ever built. He was one of the most meticulous men I have ever encountered. He could have built racecars for a living, but he had a definite opinion on that. He certainly enjoyed building and engineering cars that he could drive, but he never desired “selling” his products to “customers” but along the way a few folks did get to drive his creations and he helped many others.

Seemingly, since last September, maybe even before that, not much in the world has seemed to align or “go right”. Maybe, today we took a step in the right direction with getting things back on track and setting things “all right in the world”. In listening to Fox Sports personality Mike Joy on Sirius tonight in regard to getting the Hall-of-Fame voting process right, today in my opinion “they got it right…” with my only wish that he could be here to enjoy it. He’d give me that “really” look in the photo  used on his NASCAR Hall of Fame crest as I would say this, but congratulations Michael and I miss you…

Comments

  1. I know it may be sacrilege but it may be possible that in a time when what you knew and were able to build was more important then driving. The guy was not only a craftsman but a thinking master craftsman. He didn’t perform miracles on the track as far as I could see he made the machines he drove go faster. Not toward the end. By then he was the man and was able to attract the best. While on the rise that’s when he out thought and out built everyone.
    I’ve met a few legends briefly. Flemke, Chick Stockwell, Stefanik and Gunning. They all seemed to talk about driving except Stefanik. He was the only guy that talked about building cars.

  2. Congratulations to the Stefanik family. Well deserved.. anyone wonder if his election will pen the eyes to more people like Ted Christopher who belong in. I am surprised his name has not been nominated or mentioned as well. I hope mikes well deserved election opens the doors to more drivers that deserve to be recognized to in the modified racing community..

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